April 21, 2017
Petal, Feather, Particle
Show her a flower, a bird, a shadow, and she will show you what is simultaneously forming and falling apart. What is both witness and sign along the way on this rough earth, a shell already cracked. She’d thought she could raise a child with only minimal intercession but now, as she was being driven to the hotel, found herself looking up at the ceiling of the car, mumbling a quiet prayer. Her daughter was like her: too quick to do everything.
The girl’s father had been someone she once knew, or thought she had, a man who laid her in repose on the bed and gave her waist a tender squeeze before arranging her hands on top her, placing the right over the left, palm over knuckles. He studied her in that corpse-like pose, letting his glass with the float of lime warm in his hand, before his mouth captured hers.
She’d come in from that life long ago to cover child rearing herself. To say that she had managed well would be to deny the truth of the flower, the bird, the shadow.
She would try to give her daughter a talk, though surely the young woman too understood there was nothing like that available to speech, no wild and strange language that can reveal the organizing principle that pulls the body toward its center. This trivial fact of human nature. Composition and decomposition of every petal, feather, and light particle.
But it was only kindness, necessary kindness, that she try. And so they were scheduled to meet in the hotel by the harbor, a place where she thought the sea would soothe her, where she would set out to speak in the way gondoliers push their boats away from the Venetian docks.
A girl in trouble: the expression implied that the girl was in danger, contained her own peril. She would make clear to her daughter that this wasn’t so. Now you won’t likely become a famous dancer in Russia, she would say to her girl, and they would share a small smile at the idea that her daughter might have ever entertained such an aspiration.
What her daughter had ever wanted she truly didn’t know, and that knowledge was contained within her, a small sunken place, heavy and aching.
It was not too late to learn, she reassured herself, but was this simply another beautiful idea she was still trying to believe? And if so, where was the love in that?
The car pulled up in front of hotel with its grand façade. She wanted to cry out, fly toward the glittering ocean, a rose gripped in her hands, petals littering her shadow as it disintegrated over the deep waters.
PEG ALFORD PURSELL is the author of Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow (ELJ Editions, March 2017), a collection of hybrid prose and micro-fictions with praise from Peter Orner, Joan Silber, Margot Livesey, and others. Her stories and poems have appeared in Permafrost, the Los Angeles Review, Forklift Ohio, Joyland Magazine, 100 Word Story, and many other journals and anthologies. She is the founder and director of the national reading series Why There Are Words and founder and director of WTAW Press. She lives in Northern California.
Adapted from Show Her a Flower, A Bird, A Shadow, by Peg Alford Pursell, Copyright © 2017 by Peg Alford Pursell. With the permission of the publisher, ELJ Editions.